While many people have an asymptomatic COVID case, others experience fairly common symptoms, like cough, fatigue, and headache. But although most symptomatic patients are able to recover at home—without the need for outside medical care—the illness can quickly take an ugly turn. How can you know if your symptoms can be dealt with at home, or if you need to seek hospitalization? According to Harvard researchers, COVID can produce "severe symptoms" in some people, which indicate that your infection most likely requires the care of medical professionals. Read on to learn which symptoms to keep an eye out for, and to learn your risk of a serious case, If You’ve Done This, You’re Twice as Likely to Develop Severe COVID.
You have a high fever.
A normal fever is considered to be around 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit, says Tara Scott, MD, chief medical officer and founder of Revitalize Medical Group. This is considered a common coronavirus symptom, but you might be worse off if your fever is significantly higher. According to Harvard researchers, a high fever is a severe COVID symptom, and that would be any fever above 102 degrees Fahrenheit, Scott notes.
Leann Poston, MD, a licensed physician and health adviser for Invigor Medical, says you should also pay attention to whether or not your temperature can be brought down. If not, this could be cause for concern as well. And for more coronavirus symptoms to look out for, If You're Over 65, You Could Be Missing This COVID Symptom, Study Says.
You have a severe cough.
Harvard researchers say that a severe cough may also be a sign of severe COVID. Experts at Riverside Nurse explain that once your illness progresses into a more severe form, your mild, dry cough will likely become more persistent. According to Jenna Liphart Rhoads, PhD, a nurse and health educator for NurseTogether, a severe cough "would sound and feel tight." Scott says that you're also likely to experience "spastic coughing that provokes more coughing" when your cough is more severe. And for more concerning symptoms, Dr. Fauci Says These Are the COVID Symptoms That Don't Go Away.
You start experiencing shortness of breath
Harvard researchers say shortness of breath is one symptom that could easily and quickly progress to a severe issue. "In serious COVID-19, shortness of breath is a critical differentiator from other common illnesses," a team of Harvard researchers wrote in a May 6 statement. "The first days after shortness of breath begins are a critical period that requires close and frequent monitoring of patients by telemedicine visits or in-person exams." If a patient has COVID-induced shortness of breath, exerting enough energy just to perform simple daily activities like walking or climbing the stairs can cause blood oxygen levels to drop hastily, "even in previously health people," the researchers say. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
These symptoms mean your coronavirus case could progress into further complications.
Sri Banerjee, MD, an epidemiologist and core faculty member for Walden University's PhD in Public Health program, says these symptoms are considered more severe because they indicate that you might eventually require a ventilator and admission to the ICU to receive treatment for your coronavirus infection. These symptoms could also indicate that your case will progress into further complications, like "shock, organ damage, abnormal blood clotting, acute respiratory distress syndrome, or overall deteriorating health," Banerjee says. And for ways to prevent a serious case, Inhaling This Could Reduce Your Severe COVID Risk 90 Percent, Study Finds.
All three of these symptoms may also indicate that you have developed pneumonia.
Poston says that high fever, severe cough, and shortness of breath can all be "indicators of pneumonia," which is another possible path that a severe COVID case may take. Other symptoms of pneumonia include fast heartbeat, rapid breathing, dizziness, and increased sweating, she says.
"If you develop these symptoms, definitely consult with your doctor," Poston recommends. "If you have more severe symptoms from COVID-19, your doctor can determine whether there are medication options that may help." For example, Poston says that someone who has developed pneumonia might end up needing supplemental oxygen and a ventilator. And for more coronavirus news, If You Have This in Your Blood, You May Be Safe From Severe COVID.
You can survive COVID-induced pneumonia if these symptoms are recognized and properly treated.
According to WebMD, pneumonia can arise as a complication from any viral infection, like COVID or the flu, but common bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms can also cause this disease. While pneumonia is the cause of death for 50,000 Americans each year, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), patients who develop pneumonia that is caused by the coronavirus can survive if severe symptoms are caught and treated.
According to a January study published by Northwestern Medicine researchers in the journal Nature, mortality among patients on a ventilator for COVID pneumonia was actually lower than patients who were on a ventilator due to regular pneumonia. This is because pneumonia caused by the coronavirus causes long-term sickness, but the lung inflammation produced is not as severe as in regular pneumonia cases.
"If patients with COVID-19 are carefully managed and the healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed, you can get them through it," study co-author Scott Budinger, MD, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Northwestern Medicine, said in a statement. "These patients are very sick. It takes a really long time for them to get better. But if you have enough beds and health care providers, you can keep the mortality to 20 percent." And for more concerning coronavirus complications, If You've Had This Common Illness, You're More Likely to Die From COVID.